27 May 2010

Amnesty Ireland says reform of the HSE needed

Amnesty Ireland have slammed the "excess of legalism" surrounding the HSE, at the launch of the human rights group's annual report in Dublin this morning. Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty's chief executive, also said that reform was needed in relation to the HSE.

The Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Emily O'Reilly, launching the report outlined the inadequacies of Irish life: the banking crisis and the general lack of accountablility that exists. She echoed much of what is documented in the annual report. Ms O'Reilly's speech is widespread in targeting the human rights deficincies that exist.

The theme of this year's report is the obligation of the state and making governments accountable for their actions. Gender based violence, extraordinary rendition and ongoing human rights breaches in countries, such as Sudan and Chad are mentioned as is the failure of UN action in other parts of the world.

Amnesty's committment to challenging human rights abuses in the Middle East and Zimbabwe was reiterated. Poverty, scarcity of food and the energy crisis were cited as areas of concern as many continue to suffer. Mr O'Gorman said the "law must be applied equally" and he repeatedly stressed the duty of governments to challenge these inequalities.

The report also criticises the state of mental healthcare in Ireland. The Ombudsman says she is "unsure" of the role of the HSE when caring for unnacompanied minors. According to Amnesty Ireland, Over 400 children have "vanished" and the government's responsiblility in tackling the trafficking of children is another obligation which is highlighted.

The launch of this year's report,in Buswell's Hotel, was attended by about 50 journalists and activists and a number of those present showed little or no confidence in the HSE. Winding up proceedings, Noeleen Hartigan, Amnesty Programme Director, told those present that torture and rendition were a continuing difficulty for human rights in 2010 and she praised the Ombudsman for her "forensic analysis".

25 May 2010

DJ Ram - Part 2

Comparing the recession in the 1980s with the current recession:

“In the first recession (1980s) I wasn’t a shop owner but now as a shop owner I feel differently about the current recession. Life went full circle for me. When I first came to Ireland there was no ‘Tiger’ economy. The country was moving forward, one step at a time. A lot of people I knew in Ireland, back then had to emigrate as there were no options left to them.

The difference with the current recession is that over the last 20 years so many people made so much money in that time. Despite the recession there are a lot of people who have money. There’s people lost money and a lot that made a fortune from investments. This recession is like the one in the 1980s except this time we have more people here. Four million now, in the 1980s the population was around three million. Many people have returned to the country and there is peace in the north. All these things have made a difference. I mention the north because in the ‘80s we used to up north for bargains and then when the economy improved we started going to New York to do our shopping. But now, things have gone full circle, people are going back again to the north to shop.

This recession is a big lesson to a lot of people that do not deserve to be in business – they are chancers. The country was awash with money. Builders became developers and they hadn’t a clue about being a developer. The banks played a big part in helping those idiots to become developers and that is why we’re in this situation. But the big businesses are the worst hit. The smaller traders are less badly affected as they have been much more careful in their investments.

Four or five years ago, when I was trying to find a location for my shop, it was impossible but the location doesn’t matter anymore. It is the rent that has made it difficult for everybody. The rent ten years ago is not like the rent today. It has to go up every couple of years after a review. So if you were making money you could afford the rent. The rents are still the same but there’s less money around. Ten years ago I used to tell my friends and customers: ‘yeah ten years from now my shop will be as big as Tower Records.’ I am glad it didn’t go like that or I’d be closed now.”

My take on Immigrants:

“There will always be immigrants, whether it’s going abroad or other people coming here. It depends on the economy or the laws in a country. If people knew that Ireland was a fortress, nobody would bother coming here. But because people know that in Ireland’s history there was some hardship, immigrants will get a sympathetic hearing.

Ireland’s economy was going really well and this is part of the reason for immigrants coming here. Because people will go to a country where there is money around. But these people should get the protection they need when they come here. Wherever people go they should get protection. But immigration becomes a problem when you see women trafficked. No African guy is going to load a bus with African women and then land in Ireland. There are gangsters here that are doing this business: organised child trafficking. So immigration is happening here, it just needs too be dealt with properly.

It is now much harder for people to come here compared with ten years ago, seven years ago or even five years ago. The rules are now tougher and that’s part of the reason. Coming from Libya, as people would know, has got harder and the government there have to bargain with the European authorities. They won’t allow refugees unless they get what they want from Libya. So now Europe has a deal stopping people departing from Libya. Most European countries now have tightened their borders and it means if people travel to France it is impossible to go any further.

It is sad to see people being exploited by smugglers, some are Libyans or from other African countries. What immigrants need is a Passport, the key to a better life. I think that refugees are deliberately mistreated. An African person, for example, could work for you for nothing. It is easier for an employer to get someone to work for nothing rather than go and get their employee a Visa and organise things legitimately for them. But with no documentation this allows the boss to avoid paying someone who is undocumented.

One of the reasons why immigration to Europe has gone down is because of the recession. There’s no money and there’ll be more genuine applications here from people abroad as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ has disappeared. I am now an Irish citizen. After living here for 23 years I got my Passport. Some have come here from abroad and got their Passport after three or four years.”

Next week in the final installment of my interview with DJ Ram: 'If I was Taoiseach' where our hero brings us up to date as he is given the honour of being Ireland's first black leader!!

24 May 2010

We need agony uncles as well as agony aunts

Sheana Keane, the well known thirtysomething broadcaster, is now acting as an ‘Agony Aunt’ on The Irish Independent (each Saturday). This week she had to advise a ‘doctor’ whose complaint was his inability to find a suitor. Even though the ‘doctor’ had enough money and good prospects, he was unhappy on his own. Being single was not what he wanted.

Sheana hits the nail on the head in her response: “Take your friend’s advice and stop actively looking for love. Instead, focus on building a life that excites and stimulates you.” That’s all well and good, Sheana, you’re a female. Many women dislike sex. They only go through the ‘act’ in the hope of becoming pregnant. Men are different. Sex is hardwired into the male psyche, it’s part of daily life.

Further proof of Keane’s ignorance regarding men’s desires comes in the penultimate paragraph of her rather longwinded lecture: “Take away the self-imposed pressure of finding love and this approach will help you feel and radiate a quiet internal confidence. No deep life analysis, no pressure, just pure life enjoyment.” - This from a married woman! “No pressure” is fine coming from an agony aunt but from a male perspective the ‘advice’ offered is pretty weak, perhaps useless.

It would give a better insight if an ‘agony uncle’ gave his advice on a case such as this. Women are wonderful in so many ways but in any case of male sexual inadequacy the ‘agony aunt’ needs to take a back seat. Sheana did say, however, that a single man should not become desperate and this is, indeed, sound advice. The enduring aspect, to men’s lives now surrounds love and sex and that’s difficult to avoid.

I’ve just finished my two-year course in journalism. I found one of the women in my class quite attractive and I genuinely cared for her. But my interest was not reciprocated and I had to accept, with great difficulty, this sad reality. Men should have the sensibility to realise this ‘roadblock’ and navigate around it. Sheana’s ‘advice’ does not take on board the passion that lies at the heart of every man. This can be better articulated by an ‘agony uncle’ and would provide a more rounded piece of ‘advice’ for the likes of our ‘doctor’.

This, though, is no negative assessment on Sheana Keane who, I’m sure, can deliver well intentioned words on many thorny questions. But advice sought by a man, on the subject of sexual relations, needs to be given by a man, not in this case, by a woman. Last time I checked we had two genders and both deserve our respect and attention.

20 May 2010

Zimbabwe: "the future is bleak"

A former Zimbabwean politician gave a negative assessment on the future of Zimbabwe, at a lecture in central Dublin last night.Michael Auret was speaking at a lecture in the Catholic Library, Merrion Square and told his audience of how he was "struck by the intellect" of Robert Mugabe when he met the Zimbabwean President for the first time in the late 1970s. However this was tempered by subsequent events and the white Zimbabwean says "the future is bleak indeed."

Auret cites the seizure of property, owned by white farmers, and political violence for the collapse of Zimbabwe. Another problem was the destruction of the irrigation system in the farms. This has, he said, resulted in high rates of unemployment. Zimbabwe is in desperate need of skilled labour to overcome these problems and the many exiled professionals must return if there is to be any respite.

When questioned by the audience, Auret said it was hard to explain the wealth Mugabe and his supporters have accumulated but is certain of the inequality that pervades. In order to change this, and many other forms of injustice, there must be constitutional and electoral reform. Auret mentioned several figures who have tied themselves to the Mugabe regime.

When asked about Morgan Tsvangirai, Auret says the MDC leader has made a mistake in participating in the unity government, formed in 2009. He is not positive on the subject of reconciliation in Zimbabwe and expresses great sadness at the country he has left.

One speaker,describing himself as a 'Colonialist', told of the torture and intimidation experienced in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). He went on to criticise the Thatcher government and its handling of the Lancaster House agreement which paved the way for the formation of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Auret wound up the meeting by pointing out the increasing strength of Chinese investment in Africa. He spoke of the Chinese as being "the next colonisers" in Africa's future. "Africa is a prize" and this explained the level of colonial interest in the continent.

Michael Auret is the author of 'From Liberator to Dictator: An Insider's Account of Robert Mugabe's Descent into Tyranny'

19 May 2010

Brothers in arms

The brothers Grimm ...sorry... Miliband have both thrown their hats into the ring for the contest to decide the next leader of the British Labour party. It will be an exciting time for a party once led by Michael Foot and of course, latterly, Gordon Brown.What sort of leader will triumph? and can they reclaim the support, lost over the years, of the left in British politics.

But the two Milibands are not unique as being siblings in politics. Here in Ireland we have a long tradition of relatives being involved in political life. Former Foreign Minister, David Andrews and his late brother, Niall were colleagues in Fianna Fail. Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell and his brother, Jim (also sadly deceased) are and were prominent in Irish politics. Indeed our own former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern has several brothers who are dotted around the place in Kildare Street.

Even in Ulster brotherly love exists. Michael and Chris McGimpsey are both connected to the Ulster Unionists and, despite differing over the link with the Conservatives at Westminster, both are highly regarded, throughout Ireland.

As has been well documented elsewhere, a good portion of Irish political life revolves around relatives succeeding relatives and this tradition will continue through the coming generations.

As odd as a coalition between Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, the brothers Miliband are a novelty for both Westminster and the Labour party. Ed Balls, today, has announced his intention to stand for the vacancy at the top of his party. But all the attention will be fixed upon David and Ed.

In a recent Newsnight report a panel of voters were asked who would be their choice to lead Labour. The overwhelming majority backed David, although a female panellist said some of her friends 'fancied' Ed. He is a gorgeous looking bloke but has not got, one guesses,the correct attitude required to lead.

After a tough time campaigning, Labour, and the media,will continue to interest and excite us over the summer. Just when you thought it was all over we have possibly the most interesting leadership race in quite a while and the Miliband brothers will be centre stage.

One thing they must do, though, is to put the people first and only then can they return to government. But not before doing something that traditionally Labour does best - debating the issues that matter.

18 May 2010

DJ Ram - Part 1

Last February (2010), I conducted an interview with an interesting character from Libya. Ramadan Bettamer, better known as DJ Ram,is the owner of Dublin's only Reggae shop and his rise to success has been long but fruitful. The FD has decided to post the entire script of the interview for viewers.

I believe that Ram encapsulates the new, multicultural Ireland and his story is of an African entreprenuer who has triumphed against the odds. The interview will be posted in three parts over the coming weeks. Hopefully you'll find it of interest. Best of all though, it might get your asses down to the Crow Street Bazar where you'll find Ram's shop. It's a must for all Reggae fans......

How Ireland has changed my life since arrival:

“My name is Ramadan Bettamer and my nick-name is Ram. That is why I’m known as DJ Ram. I come from Libya, a place called Benghazi which is the second city in Libya. When I was in Libya I got a high level of education and had just started in college when we were sent to study abroad. That led to me coming to Ireland.

When I left Libya I first travelled to England, where I studied English. I knew some English but it wasn’t great. I stayed in school there for six months and I stayed with an English family to prepare myself for my project as an aircraft engineer.

Before I started training I had to learn English first at the Anglo-Continental school in Bournemouth so everything could be understood, as all the lectures were given in English. The original plan was for me to study in Canada but I couldn’t get any school available to take me so I went to England. I spent six months (1983) studying in England having great fun. Bournemouth is a great city and my English really improved. Up till then I didn’t know that I’d be going to Ireland. Ireland wasn’t on the map. The choice was either stay in England or go to Canada.

When I left college in Libya I got an opportunity to go abroad and study as an aircraft engineer and wanted to take it, just like everyone else. It’s a great job to have as an aircraft engineer. I have a brother who is a pilot but my Dad, at the time said: ‘what’s the point of having two pilots in the family? Why don’t you study engineering?’ So the opportunity came with Arab Airlines, who were looking to recruit Libyans as they were relying, at the time, on foreign labour. A lot of people would take an opportunity like that because it would improve their lives immensely lifestyle-wise, salary-wise and lead to a more prestigious life.

After Bournemouth I came over to Ireland where Aer Lingus had classes available to train me, based at Dublin airport at classrooms set up there. The classes were put into three different groups: (1) instruments, (2) electrical, (3) radio and radar. The radio and radar group is what I qualified and specialised in. For four years I studied theory and practice in aircraft engineering and every three weeks we would have exams. The funding for my training was provided by the Libyan government because they needed people to go abroad and study and return with skills to be used to help the Libyan economy.

I continued my training until 1987 but the US bombing of Libya made it difficult to go home. The longer I spent abroad the less funding I was getting from the Libyan authorities. At this time the political situation in Libya was changing dramatically and that made it impossible for a lot of people like me to go back and contribute to the country.

At that point I had to make harsh decisions. Now I had to rely on my own resources in a foreign country. After spending four years here I made a lot of friends, almost like a family to me. I found myself working in a Take Away restaurant only two weeks after I finished at Dublin airport. In this country it’s who you know that helps and that’s what kept me going.

Back then I lived in Santry and I knew all the neighbours, even the kids knew me and getting involved in the local Karate club helped me increase my contacts. It was, at the time, a novelty to know a black person in Dublin. We were looked upon in a positive light because we weren’t refugees or asylum seekers – we had real qualifications to offer and we had money.

Initially coming from Libya to England there was a big change in my life, a culture shock. In England the standard of living was great. But going back to Ireland was different. Britain was, still is, more advanced than Ireland. Some of my colleagues went back to England at that stage because they couldn’t hack it here. This was at a time when Ireland was poor. Fewer people were buying cars – even second hand cars!”

From 1987 I worked as a Chef in a few places including The Cedar Tree Lebanese restaurant and then in Wolfman Jack’s in Rathmines, which was the same style of restaurant as Captain America’s. I know the owner, Jay Bourke (proprietor of several hostelries around Dublin). I started as a kitchen porter and then worked my way up from there. One of the most famous customers, while I was at The Cedar Tree, was Mick Hucknall from Simply Red.

As well as my work as a Chef I had started doing some work as a film extra. I worked with some famous actors such as Dennis Hopper, Craig Charles and Daniel Day Lewis. When they were looking for extras to work in In The Name Of the Father, I was chosen because of my Rastafarian appearance. Getting to know people in the film business such as Jim Sheridan was another good result of getting involved in movies here. All of this time I was building up my contacts which has gone on to help me here. This was through working with a large group of over 400 on the set of In The Name Of the Father. It was like a big family. Following my involvement in that film led to working, three years later on The Boxer. It was an honour to work with Daniel Day Lewis.”

Next week:
Comparing the recession of the 1980's with post Celtic Tiger Ireland; the treatment of immigrants.

17 May 2010

Africa Day 2010

Melvyn Bragg’s In our time programme goes out on Thursday mornings on BBC Radio 4. Each week Bragg analyses a subject with historical relevance. For those that want a little more context the programme has a newsletter sent by email to all who subscribe. I’ve been subscribing for several years and find Melvyn’s informed knowledge quite inspirational.

In the course of an average posting he describes walking around London and the marvellous landmarks that city has to offer. The South Bank Show presenter has long been chronicling cultural delights. I always feel he translates the intellectual discussions so that scatter-brains like me can appreciate all that is covered on what I believe to be most insightful broadcasting.


Another city with a fine tradition of culture and arts is Dublin. Today’s fun surrounds the beautiful environs of the Iveagh Gardens. The event I speak of is Africa Day. Sponsored by Irish Aid, this is about celebrating all things African. There is plenty to feed the senses and I will endeavour to bring some of these pleasures to you, my very own subscriber.

I’m sitting in a ring while drummers beat out intricate rthyms. Children seem to be everywhere – Ireland’s maternity units must be working overtime. Looking around the gardens, in Dublin’s leafy south city centre, there is a myriad of food and other cultural items being displayed.

The big worry of course is the weather. A Zimbabwean friend texted yesterday to convince me the weather would be good but, though I don’t wish to be disrespectful to the gentleman, you can never trust the Irish weather. Sorry Ashley.

However I needn’t have worried. There’s no rain and I’m down to my African T- Shirt (well I regard it as being African anyway) and while it’s not quite African skies, we have some rather nice sunshine to accompany the colourful occasion.

I’m sitting on my raincoat (knew it would come in handy) while the established and unestablished ramble around. I have my digital camera and intend putting it to good use. A group of about four Dublin girls/women are sitting on their rug drinking cans of Bulmers and bottles of Buckfast. Are they looking for action, I wonder? They’ll not have to look far.

Glamour and style are at every turn as various sounds bounce around the place. I’m hearing some cool Reggae sounds and feel compelled to investigate what’s going on. One could be forgiven for a sense of delirium – this is truly wonderful fun. Why people resort to drugs for enjoyment I’ll never know.

Well I have made it to the Africa Centre tent and there’s drumming lessons being taught. Should I get involved? Why the hell not. Everyone’s trying to attain a level of skill on the bongos and it’s happening in a lovely atmosphere. Soon there are Irish and native Africans belting away on what seem indestructible African drums. Anyway here goes.....

.....Ten minutes later I emerge from the drumming class with hands red from whacking the animal skin and am thoroughly rewarded for getting involved – no one should pass off the opportunity to sample other cultures.

Right now comedian, Fabu D, is working a crowd of roughly 100 with his unique hybrid of Nigerian/Irish humour. I’ve come across him before and he always gets laughs wherever he goes. Fabu you probably need more piercing material but your attitude is bang on.

Here I am surrounded by beautiful African women (sadly that description cannot be applied to the native Irish females here today). One wonders how Rosanna Davison won Miss World – no justice!! Trophy wives/girlfriends populate this annual event. What a pity Sinead elected not to accept my invitation to join me here. Well one thing is clear; I’d rather be here than stuck in a Chemist any day of the week. She’s the loser on this one, not me.

We’re listening to what sounds like a gospel performance and it’s going well considering the din from a nearby stage with what sounds like a Hip Hop act. How the choir are audible is anyone’s guess. The gospel group do the ‘hit’ ‘Oh Happy Day’, staple of supermarkets all over the land. Packing shelves brings tortuous memories – hell on earth. This though is heavenly in sight, sound, taste, smell and in spirit.

At times I get the feeling I’m encroaching – this is a family event. Not ideal for singletons such as me. Stunning women are all over the gardens. I’ve been on the look out for an African girlfriend for some time and if everyday was Africa Day, I’d be halfway towards achieving that ambition. Can you imagine growing up in this environment?

Today’s youth maybe rejected by our government but this city, my city, has now plenty of cultural routes to choose from. At nearly 38 years of age it is hard to recall anything filling my heart with such an amount of excitement. It’s special. Bubbles are now raining on me, as I write. The tones of Bob Marley’s ‘Stir it up’ are ringing out through the sunny air and, for the first time this year, my arms are starting to burn.

Leaving the Iveagh Gardens is almost heart-wrenching. The day has opened my eyes and ears to further knowledge of African culture. Harcourt Street is solid as I exit and I’m really glad I arrived early as the queue snakes for a good distance and one wonders will those waiting ever get into the garden before it closes. A larger venue may have to be chosen for next year’s event.

At least it’s not raining, of that we can all be merciful. I’m sat in my favourite city centre pub, The Hairy Lemon, finishing this scribbling and look back on what was a genuine cultural highlight. It is an alternative to the bleak economic and wider problems affecting Dubliners and an opportunity for some much needed social integration. Long live Africa!